Aditya Birla: Defining Productivity, Now and in Future

by | Productivity

A company that is the league of Fortune 500, this Mumbai-based multinational conglomerate is valued at $48.3 billion. With 120,000 employees spanning across 42 nationalities, it is the third-largest Indian private sector company established 163 years ago in 1857. The company has successful businesses in a variety of fields like fibre, metals, cement, telecom, financial services, brand apparel and more. It has interests in brands like UltraTech cement, Vodafone India, Century Textiles etc. that have earned an unshakeable reputation in India and abroad.

New Frontiers in Productivity

Talent and technology are the key drivers of productivity in today’s constantly evolving world. Aditya Birla Capital, a people intensive B2C company selling financial products, has harnessed these factors among others to make productivity a dominant metric of performance.

With a well-defined vision, strategy and R&D investment plans, it is set to improve efficiency in a scalable manner. For Aditya Birla Capital, it all starts with a definition and an objective, followed by mission-critical execution to deliver results.

Defining Productivity, Now and in Future

With close to half of the operating costs related to manpower, a strong mechanism to track ROI is essential. Various input/output ratios are used to measure this. The ratios relate to revenue/cost, profit before tax, the number of new and active distributors, and the size of the customer base.

They are used in conjunction with the employee cost and headcount to arrive at a desirable outcome.

A Strategy and Vision for Increased Productivity

By 2025, Aditya Birla Capital aims to acquire 20 million customers, with four products per consumer, and revenue of INR 25,000 crores. To achieve this inspiring goal, three broad strategies are being adopted.

First, in Digital Transformation, the focus is on expanding the digital footprint and improving adoption. This includes customer-centric technologies like voice and conversational UI, apps, and social media platforms such as WhatsApp. Digital initiatives are rolled out, keeping in mind the value drivers of Revenue, Customer Advocacy, Distributor Advocacy, and Scalability & Cost Efficiency. 

When it comes to Capability Building, the team has stepped up to the challenge of seizing growth opportunities. A major initiative is the number of interventions to enable productivity improvement of its sales force across business units. For this, a detailed analysis of earnings data, customer feedback, stakeholder interviews and performance reviews were conducted. Structured interventions were rolled out, and steps such as log-in and reduction in rejection ratios were measured for effectiveness.

Finally, for Operational Efficiency, a number of efforts were made to streamline workflows and reduce manual processes. The VEGA 12 x 12 project focused on the customer for faster complaint resolution through speedier decision making, empowerment and de-layering. Speed of expansion, tie-ups, investor education programs and lead conversion were improved

Productivity Enhancement Drivers

Further steps to accelerate the rate of productivity came in the form of identifying specific and powerful drivers of performance. 

There was a Recreated Data Lab to study productivity data for the last three years with links established between productivity metrics. Productivity dashboards and trend analyses were designed and rolled out for visibility and traction. Massive volumes of customer data were managed and interpreted. 

Benchmarks and high-mid-low buckets were created and tracked, and performance data was thoroughly analyzed and redesigned. An alignment of incentive schemes was also carried out, in line with a unique Birla working style to boost customer retention and loyalty.

Scorecards were set up for salespeople to extract maximum output from the bottom quartile, with initiatives such as a WhatsApp groups to drive learning journeys.

Overall, operations were aligned with the ABG Sustainable Business Framework, which included valuable e-learning courses and capacity utilization models.

Investment in R&D and Innovation Boosters

The technology and digital spends across ABC were approximately INR 250 to 300 Cr — that is, 2% of the revenue. Much of this boosted productivity by delivering the latest technology needed for growth.

On the innovation front, one way to fast track progress was the BizLabs initiative which collaborated with ground-breaking FinTechs. It was set up to leverage their potential, adopt innovative solutions and create win-win situations. 

This harnessed capabilities like artificial intelligence, machine learning, big-data analytics, cloud computing, and smart automation. These were developed keeping in mind sharp value propositions, improving delivery and service quality and increasing process efficiency and scalability.

Over 570 innovative start-ups applied to address 17 problem statements, including 40 overseas entries. About 100 start-ups were selected, with 16 winners who are now conducting pilots, which will be of considerable help in assessing the impact of new technologies and interfaces.

Creating and Consolidating Productivity Skills

A key aspect of boosting productivity now and in future is that of upskilling within the organization. Aditya Birla Capital is taking great strides here in both sales and non-sales functions.

The productivity improvement of our salesforce is an important driver. The sales team comprises 80% of the workforce, and detailed diagnostics were conducted to identify critical areas/skills, and concerns. Then, detailed training and coaching programs and incentive mechanisms were put in place.

For non-sales personnel, a detailed Operations Development Architecture was created to focus on necessary skills, with constant updating and feedback. 

Meeting Future Challenges 

Productivity is a moving target. It needs to be constantly redefined and acted upon. As such, there were three issues identified. 

  1. The averaging issue, which masks the low performers
  2. Measuring only output metrics and ignoring input 
  3. Internal benchmarking vs External benchmarking

Statistical curves were applied across employees to track how productivity was manifested irrespective of high/low performance. Employees were segmented, and measurement and improvement interventions applied. 

To enhance engagement, stress was laid on a company culture in which people develop a sense of belonging and feel supported. Clearly articulated values, as well as recognition, were important elements. 

Another challenge was keeping with changing regulatory mechanisms related to the privacy of data as well as security. Behavior is constantly assessed for ethical and lawful actions. 

Putting Productive Organizational Structures in Place

A pilot project currently in the Life Insurance business unit is measuring performance based on value and volume. There is a balance between increasing revenue and expanding distribution network.

A capacity utilization model is also applied to decide deployment in units. This will help the organization build capacity, track and improve utilization, and reduce costs. Moreover, roles are clearly defined, with specific accountability as well as performance goals and performance incentives.

How Technology and Productivity Go Hand in Hand

There is a clear focus on expanding and leveraging the digital footprint both internally and externally. For example, a web-based career progression/management application for the frontline sales team has the following features:

Performance automation: This enables real-time performance updates and sales progression. A mobile app tracks performance against goals. Updating of basic profile details is also possible. Managers can check performance at the branch, region, zone and country levels.

Automation of productivity dashboards (under process): The reporting of productivity numbers segmented as High-Mid-Low is to occur every month. Supervisors can track and derive action plans to improve productivity.

In other activity, there’s a single platform with multi-tenant architecture to enable a smooth flow of information and access. Queries are handled by a chatbot, reducing the need for manual intervention.

Rewarding Motivated, Productive Individuals

Productivity is boosted by the actions of motivated individuals, and the ABC Inspiration Awards is one of the strategies to recognize and reward such behavior. 

The Champions Awards recognize the contributions of employees who replicate the best processes and deliver superior employee and customer service. Other awards reward out-of-the-box thinking as well as ideas with measurable business impact and those that go beyond expectations for results. 

Another initiative for employees to share breakout ideas is the Shark Tank. The top three ideas selected on these sessions are funded, and employees can transform into intrapreneurs. 

Collaborating for Better Productivity

Collaboration is a key element in enhancing productivity. To help different departments collaborate, the following opportunities were provided:

Cross-functional teams were a part of the digital immersion visit to China, Hong Kong and Europe to study how companies are overcoming challenges. Lessons learnt involved the use of tech, customer delight, developing talent, and distributor journeys.

Regional Business Forums are also being conducted in every location for employees to interact, collaborate and take our vision and mission ahead through every branch.

Learning from and Overcoming Failure

In the journey to better productivity, there are speed breakers, and the trick is to learn from them and emerge ahead of the curve.

One example is the Sales Buddy App to drive automation. Uptake was low because of the absence of robust mapping data, poor visibility of inputs, lack of mobile optimization as well as a few glitches.

Rather than giving up, these challenges were analyzed in detail and a new, successful version was created.